The Zulu culture, renowned for its rich traditions and heritage, has long faced challenges arising from patriarchal ideologies. While the culture itself embodies deep respect for customs and rituals, there have been instances where certain patriarchal individuals have manipulated these traditions to serve their own selfish desires, often at the expense of women.
Patriarchy within Zulu culture has historically led to the subjugation of women, where societal norms often prioritise men’s authority and power. This imbalance has allowed some men to exploit cultural practices for their benefit, misinterpreting traditions to assert dominance and control over women. Such individuals use cultural facets, often twisting their original meaning, to enforce oppressive practices.
Many such misogynistic individuals nowadays practice or are immersed in what is termed the bhinca lifestyle. This is a Zulu sub-culture with its origins in the migrant labour system of colonial and apartheid South Africa where homesick men gathered in mine hostels and performed traditional music, got dressed in their best traditional clothes etc. This extended to the holidays when they travelled back home and they would bring expensive city clothes and play what was then a new genre of “city” music.
There is now a resurgence of a romanticised modern version of this bhinca lifestyle seen mostly in rural KZN and the hostels of Gauteng and driven through social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok. It is also driven through maskandi music and other social events like izingoma zezigodi (village traditional music shows). It is mostly represented in a particular fashion style, maskandi music, Toyota Hiluxes and Quantums and a generally showy lifestyle.
This romanticised version of the bhinca lifestyle is mainly influenced by self-styled cultural proponents, wealthy business people, media personalities and even some politicians who are all frequently seen mingling with known violent criminals at functions where another questionable bhinca lifestyle practice of ukushaya indishi (gifting hosts of a party, a traditional ceremony or wedding with wads of cash) is usually on crass display.
The lifestyle, however, has a stinking underbelly that is driven by misplaced Zulu nationalism, misogyny and abuse of Zulu culture. Embedded deep in the bhinca lifestyle is the constant need to prove one’s ubunsizwa (manhood), a dangerous gun culture and the deliberate misinterpretation/manipulation of Zulu culture. Criminality (hitmen, extortion rings, armed robberies etc) is also almost always found in the proximity of the bhinca lifestyle.
The Shembe church, an influential religious movement within the amabhinca proponents, has also faced criticism for perpetuating harmful beliefs and practices. While the church espouses principles of spirituality and unity, some factions within it have been accused of fostering a culture where men abuse their power, particularly in their treatment of virgins.
The Shembe church’s emphasis on purity and reverence for virgins, while rooted in spiritual teachings, has been distorted by certain individuals to manipulate and exploit young women. These individuals, often in positions of authority or influence within the church, have been reported to coerce young virgins into non-consensual relationships under the guise of religious obligation. This misuse of cultural and religious values perpetuates a cycle of abuse and oppression, victimising vulnerable members of the community.
Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach. It involves acknowledging the importance of preserving cultural heritage while simultaneously challenging and dismantling patriarchal ideologies that enable the exploitation of cultural practices.
Empowering women within these communities, ensuring their voices are heard, and creating avenues for education and awareness about healthy relationships and consent are crucial steps toward fostering a more equitable and respectful society.
Furthermore, advocating for reform within religious institutions, promoting interpretations of cultural practices that uphold dignity and equality, and holding accountable those who misuse their positions of influence are imperative actions in addressing the abuse of Zulu culture for selfish gains and the exploitation of women within the Shembe church.
Ultimately, the goal is to honour the beauty and significance of Zulu culture while fostering an environment where its traditions are practised in a manner that upholds the rights and dignity of all individuals, irrespective of gender.
Dube is a political economist, businessman and social commentator who regularly contributes on leading radio stations locally and internationally. He holds a Higher Diploma in Education and a Masters in Economics